There’s something going on behind the scenes at CMS. Meet Sarah Barnes, the School & Community Liaison. Sarah has a Master’s Degree in School Administration and many years of experience in teaching, tutoring, youth ministry and school program coordination. She serves on the boards of several local community resource associations such as Chelan Valley Hope and Refuge. In her current role for the school district, which was created out of Superintendent Manahan’s Visioning Action Plan in 2012, she assesses students’ academic, social and family situations which may be causing barriers to success in school. Barnes conducts meetings with students, teachers and staff, and even makes home visits to promote positive family attitudes toward school.

One of the programs Barnes created when she began her role during the 2012-2013 school year was “Why Try.” “Why Try” is a national program that helps inspire students in over 16,000 K-12 school, mental health, and correctional organizations worldwide. The goals of the program are to help students reach their full potential, and to increase involvement in the school of community resources such as volunteers. The curriculum teaches important life skills, like following rules, building support systems, resisting peer pressure, and developing resiliency, in stimulating ways using graphics and activities that youths quickly grasp and enjoy.

Last spring, Barnes began a pilot “Why Try” program with a goal simply to see if it made a difference for some students with grade or attendance problems. Monitoring records and discipline referrals showed that the program was leading to improvement; regular check-ins with the students confirmed this.

This year, approximately 40 CMS students with a variety of skill levels and needs are participating in expanded programs during one Advisory or Lunch period a week. Each group has a volunteer leader from the community, who guides the students in fun games and exercises which build the students’ decision-making skills, peer-support attitudes, and leadership abilities. There are “Why Try” programs district-wide, serving over 100 students.

Barnes says, “The community volunteers are the real heroes here. They enthusiastically donate 2-5 hours of their time weekly, not to mention training, lesson preparation, and the pizza or homemade cookies they bring in for their groups.” These are the current “Why Try” leaders: Dalia Hernandez, Lupe Vieyra, Travis Farrar, Jeff Chambers, Bob Meyers, Lizzy Chambers, Steve Simmons, Sara Zelaya, Cindy Knight, Lynda Foster, Michelle Navarro, and Mike Cooney. “This kind of heartfelt volunteerism to give back is what makes our community great and without people like them, there would be no need for my position,” concludes Barnes.

Students report that the support they receive in the group decreases their stress, makes them look forward to school instead of dreading it, helps them see themselves more positively, and improves their social skills. Students also report benefitting from the advocacy of their leaders, who help them recognize their potential and are people who are “in their court.” When students feel better about themselves they typically do better in school!

“Why Try” is just one of the many services Sarah and her job-share partner, Adelina Velasco (Parent Involvement Coordinator) offer. They help with things that many families take for granted but others struggle with, such as motivation to study, transportation to and from school, challenges to participating in athletics due to poor grades, even helping families overcome lack of housing, food or clothing and the emotional stresses that come from navigating today’s economy.

If you are intrigued, you can contact Barnes for more information at 682-4061. She would love to help more community members go through Why Try training and add new sessions to the curriculum, reaching more students with this innovative, successful program.